Calcified 'God-worm' tunnels run throughout the vicinity of Wermhalten. The village is located within the largest concentration of surface representations of the tunnels, including a 'junction' in the center of town. The tunnels are prehistoric in origin and have been exposed where the land surface has become eroded away.
No tunnel entrances are exposed in town, but a few may be located elsewhere. Most of the tunnels appear to be filled with sediment or calcareous worm-castings, but a few may still be accessible, if an entrance may be found, and enforcers of the local cult may be avoided. Tainted vegetation surrounds exposed worm burrows, and an observant explorer can see traces of twisted foliage where the burrows are near the surface.
Commerce and culture of the town has recently become centered on a worm cult and the pilgrims who arrive to worship.
The priest Esau Voress leads the worm-cult in worship of the god-worm, and is hostile to any would-be explorers in the area. (7th level, HP 24, AC4/15, iron-bound quarterstaff (+1 damage), detect magic, detect good, speak with animals, snake charm, continual light, cure disease, cure serious wounds, quest. Scroll: hold person, cure light wounds, Potion: shield of faith, 800 GP). He has had visions from the 'Worm-god' (actually a manipulative demon). The demon has tasked Voress with gaining followers, as well as collecting 'Worm-stones' from the castings within the tunnels. The stones are opal-like gems secreted by the prehistoric worm. When a sufficient number have been collected, the demon will reveal certain rituals to Voress. The gems will be used as foci to awaken and control certain subterranean horrors, to be used to undermine the walls of the temple-city of Taliskhan and allow for the destruction of the city and desecration of its religious sites, thus allowing for a resurgence of evil.
Five lieutenant clerics (2x4th level, HP 17, AC 4/15, mace, random 2x1st level, 1x2nd level spells each; 3x3rd level, HP 13, AC 5/14, mace, random 2x1st level spells each ); 15 acolytes (1st lvl, HP 5, AC 7/12, club). When not conducting services, one or two groups (3rd-4th level leader plus 1d4+3 acolytes) will be patrolling the forest for any interlopers who may be seeking tunnel entrances. A second group has secretly occupied a long-abandoned manor-house several miles outside of town, and are surreptitiously exploring a few hidden tunnel entrances while prospecting for worm-stones.
The group is centered in the barrow-longhouse of worship, a sunken pole-house built just north of the crossroad and worm tunnel. The longhouse is comprised of bowed beams representing the worm's burrow. The cult holds weekly rituals in the longhouse, and an increasing number of citizens are worshiping, under promises of renaissance and release from the tithing to the new religions centered in Taliskhan. Other than a few suspicious souls (see below), the townsfolk do not suspect the cult's nefarious ends.
At any time, there will be 10-40 pilgrims or worshipers in town. More affluent souls will lodge at the two inns, with others camping in tents on the village green or woods surrounding town.
The Duchy Militia guards the each approach to town via three blockhouses. The overly large contingent monitors the worm-cult and polices festivals and visitors. The expanded presence of the militia has increased the animosity between the authorities and the cult.
The militia is lead by Ala Stirros, a disgraced cavalier, who is bitter about his assignment to this crossroads. He is disillusioned and longs for the culture and bustle of the city (5th level, 24 HP, AC 2/17, warhorse, +1 heavy crossbow, flail, potion: cure poison, 106 GP, 241 SP). He lives in a well-appointed house with his wife and squire (1st level fighter, HP 6, AC 6/13, spear, dagger). Stirros suspects the cult to be up to nefarious intentions, but has no real evidence besides Voress' fiery sermons. He may ask a willing party to more closely investigate the priest, or track his followers on their patrols into the forests.
The militia is housed in three barracks along the east side of town.
Three 3rd level captains (HP 16, AC 5/14, shortbow, broadsword/falchion) with 30 - 1st level men at arms (HP6, AC 7/12, longbow, mace).
A collection of pavilion-yurts of the Pasha Sa'id Taig and his wife, servants and guards, cluster at the north edge of town in pilgrimage. The "Pasha" was formerly a vigorous and powerful warrior, now sickly and susceptible to illness (CON-1) after a battle with an attribute-draining undead warrior. He hides his true identity as a knight of some renown out of shame and fear for his life. He is on a search for a cure to this ailment that may return him to his former vigor (5th level fighter, HP 23, AC 2/17, longsword, shortbow, 433 GP in gems and coin). He has drained most of his wealth, and pawned any magical items in search of a cure (will require limited wish or similar to overcome). Any character or being who restores him to health will have his gratitude and loyalty. If conflict arises between the religious and the militia, Taig will tend to side with Voress, as he is under his thrall in hopes of a cure.
His wife, Susa, accompanies him, fearful he is being taken advantage of by yet another charlatan. She has a reserve of coinage secreted to pay the servants and provision the group (HP4, AC9/10, dagger, 203 GP).
He is accompanied by two servants and his guard retinue:
Alec Verban, 3rd level captain (HP20, AC 3/16, longsword, compound longbow (+1 damage), ring of fire resistance, 190 GP) Verban has ridden with the "Pasha" as his retainer for several years and knows of his plight. He remains loyal in the hope that his master will return to his former vitality and prosperity. He, too distrusts the worm-cultists.
8-1st level men at arms (HP4, AC 6/13, 4x Spear and shortsword, 4x light crossbow and longsword)
Butcher - Vernys Polecha is a follower of competing belief system and arrived in town shortly after the arrival of the worm-cult to spy on the group. He will attempt to sabotage rituals, and quietly convert followers. He may approach the party with an offer to investigate the cult's motivations, or to locate worm-burrow entrances and delve into the subterranean activities of the acolytes. (4th level Assassin, 13HP, AC 6/13, +1 warhammer, poisoned dagger, Potions: cure serious wounds, darkvision, 300 GP) If he wields the warhammer in the presence of Voress, the priest will recognize it as formerly belonging to a slain colleague. Polecha is not aware of the cult's true motivation, and resists it only as a fanatic of a rival worm-cult, although he may discover their plotting via other channels or investigations.
Two inns compete for the business of visitors:
The Jovial Hound is a single floor, wood-timbered building, with a high ceiling festooned with good luck charms and talismans. The owner, a suspicious man named Tirgis Kalg (HP 6, AC 8/12, mace, 28 GP, 58 SP, 202 CP), is heavily tattooed with protective wards and sigils (+2 save vs spells). Observant locals note that he has gained a few additional tattoos since the worm-cult arrived in town, and that he appears more nervous than usual. Regardless, he is known to be hospitable, if reserved. Lodging at the inn includes four rooms with straw mattresses, and hammocks hung in a mezzanine above the common room. Meals are plain, but hearty, and include:
- Oat porridge
- Bread and sausage
- Roast chicken and potatoes
- Boiled pork and cabbage
The One-Eyed Dragon is a two-story, stone and wood inn sporting a fake dragon skull above the mantle. The 'Dragon' is owned by a maimed and scarred elf named Tatore, an adventurer who retired after being disfigured during combat with a dragon. (3rd level MU, 6 HP, AC 9/10, silver dagger, sleep, detect magic, read magic, strength, scroll: detect invisibility, shield, 203 GP, 92 SP, 44 CP). He is relatively new to the area, and is adapting to his new life as an innkeeper. Lodgers share a single upstairs room furnished with 12 cots, with overflow capacity served by hammocks in the common area. A stable sits off the road behind the inn. The inn offers a simple, mostly vegetarian, fare:
- Bread and cheese curds
- Fried potatoes and onions
- Vegetable stew
- Roast vegetables and nut-bread
Other players in town:
Jak Vergare- Tanner - Has a good selection of leather goods, and offers repair of tack and other equipment. Some finer leathers are actually human skin, 'collected' from waylaid travelers. Accordingly, he is greatly peeved that cult has attracted increased traffic and the notice of the militia. (HP 6, AC 9/10, club, dagger)
Emma Drait - Maidservant - Makes living cleaning houses, works at the Jovial Hound. She is simple and friendly, but all these worm-people make her nervous.
Oia Ichau - Barber - She has built a small bathhouse behind her shop, and provides minor medical services. Her administrations provide 1-2 HP healing. (HP 4, AC 9/10, light crossbow)
Erek Rank - Chandler - Sells candles, wax, and soaps made of paraffin and tallow supplied by the butcher and tanner. Some of the tallow he received from the tanner makes very nice soaps, and he'd like to get some more.
Hinen Caend - Merchant - He has recently expanded his stock, and has a 60 % chance to have standard adventuring equipment available. The goods are sold at 1.5x list price. (0 level guard - HP 4, AC 6/13, spear, dagger, War dog - 14 HP, AC 6/13, 2d4 bite)
Jodi Skelin - Herbalist - She sells a number of herbal distillations, some efficacious (improve saves vs. poison or illness +1, roll d4 for 6, 12, 18, or 24 hours duration). The remainder are merely slightly intoxicating and smell funny.
'Denny' Denbel - Baker - Does a brisk business selling to the two inns, citizens, and travelers. (HP 4, AC 7/12, club, dagger)
Herm Tharat - Smith - He performs repairs and shoeing services for travelers and locals, as well as makes very serviceable tools. Tharat is not a weaponsmith, but has taught himself fletching and arrow-making. He will have d30 arrows and 2d20 crossbow bolts available (HP 8, AC 7/12, light crossbow, hammer (+1 to-hit/damage)).